Jan 21, 2013

Annual repost+: U.S. Nationals and skating terms

I'll be spending as much of the week as possible glued to Ice Network watching the live stream for U.S. Nationals. I'll watch as much as I can and I'll live tweet from the stream (@Xanboni). The hashtag for Nationals is #omaha2013.

 Some tweeters to look for are @lepigeonbercy (affectionate snark), @dougmatthis (insider), @pfcclub (WAY insider), @theboyswhoscore (they try to guess the scores) and @MWskatecast (an actual journalist). If you're a fan, you can find all the skaters twitter names in the right side bar at Axels Loops and Spins (scroll down- caution, multiple videos; site loads VERY slowly).

Most of my hardcore readers here already know how to recognize specific skills, but for the more casual fans, here's a brief guide to skating terms.  Also see my post on understanding the commentators.

I first watched figure skating with the world, so to speak, via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Skype and the SM links on the Olympic site in 2010. I've realized that for the many of us spend our days around figure skaters, former figure skaters, parents of figure skaters and people who work at skating rinks, we all know a LOT about figure skating.

What I didn't know is that other figure skating fans don't know a lot about figure skating. I always figured that if you're a fan you know the difference between a lutz, a loop, a toe loop and a flip. I figured you could tell when a spin is slow, or when a skater has superior edge quality.

But if Twitter is any guide, this is not the case. People are utterly mystified by the scoring because they really don't think of it as sport-- they think of it as art, and everyone knows, as the old joke says that with art, you don't have to understand it, you just have to know what you like.

If you've got friends who like to watch skating, but have no idea what's gong on, here's the original terminology post, from February 2010:

There are 8 basic jumps, in order of difficulty- Salchow, Toe Walley, Toe Loop, Loop, Walley, Flip, Axel, Lutz. We've started seeing single walleys again, in footwork and leading into Flips, because it increases the difficulty. It's a funny choppy little jump against the direction of the edge. I haven't seen a toe walley in decades, so don't worry about them. Skaters love it when performers do walleys, and the announcers will go crazy if someone does one.

Edge jumps lift off the gliding edge. Toe assisted jumps use the toe of the free leg as a vault. On an inside edge the skater's upper body will be facing into the circle he or she is on. On an outside edge the skaters body will be facing out of the circle he's on.

All jumps are described for counter-clockwise skaters who jump to the left (only 1 in 15 or so skaters are cw). For CW, same edge, other foot.

Salchow is an edge jump off a left back inside edge. Toe Loop: toe assisted jump off right back outside edge (RBO). Loop, edge jump RBO. Flip, toe assisted LBInside. A footwork sequence into a flip is a required element in singles skating. Actual back flips ala Michael Weiss, Surya Bonaly and Scott Hamilton are illegal (and I once saw someone faceplant out of a back flip, so I'm with them on this one). Axel, edge jump with forward take off, LFO edge (everyone recognizes this one because of the dramatic forward launch). Lutz, toe assist, LBO. Lutz is a "counter jump," that is it changes rotational direction at the launch. The edge traces a clockwise circle, but the jump rotates CCW. Lutz is the jump with the long entry edge. When you hear someone talking about "telegraphing" a jump, this is the most common jump they're thinking of.

It matters if the skater takes off on the correct edge, because it changes the difficulty of the jump. It matters if the jump is under-rotated. It's not a triple if it doesn't go around 3 times, just like a touchdown doesn't count if it doesn't cross the goal line, no matter how long the run or the pass was, or how elegant the player.

If you get good at watching, you can tell what jump is coming up by the skater's body language and positions. One of the wonderful things about YuNa Kim is that you cannot tell what jump she is going to do, in fact sometimes you can't even tell that she is setting up for a jump. Kwan had this ability as well; it's one of the things that makes their skating look so "easy."

A jump combination is two or more jumps in a row with no connecting steps. A jump sequence is any number of jumps with connecting steps between any of them. The little half and whole rotation hops that skaters do don't get points for jumping, but are counted as footwork and transition.

Edge quality
Edge quality refers to the skater's control of their blade. Someone with good edge quality skates with minimal snowy curves, no ankle wobble or stuttering, and steady-as-a-rock upper body. You can really see this on the ladies' spiral sequences. Good edge quality also gives you clean turns and steps (no scraping sound). Edge quality is the defining skill of a high level skater. You don't get the big jumps without the edge quality. As I like to tell my little skaters, my 90-year-old granny can jump, but she can't hold a back outside edge all the way around a face-off circle on a single push.

Quickie on spins
There are three basic spin positions: upright, camel, sit. Upright includes those leg stretchers (sometimes called a martini glass or if you're extremely rude, a b**ver), and Biellmans (the upright backbend). That hideous spin where the skater bends at the waist FORWARDS and grabs a foot (butt is now sticking up in the air- called an "A-frame") is actually an upright spin, as is a layback. The camel is the one in the arabesque position.  A sit spin only counts if the skater's hips are below their knees. Otherwise it's an upright spin.

Skaters wave their arms around and keep changing the g*ddam position because the scoring system gives them points for multiple "features" i.e. waving their arms around and changing positions. UPDATE 2011: Since I first wrote this a "feature" has been added to allow skaters to maintain a spin position for 8 rotations and get extra points for doing so.
UPDATE 2013: the 8-rotation feature has now been limited, but a new feature has been added for inserting a jumping change or entry within a spin, so you'll see a lot of spins with a jump change this year. I'm pretty sure they stay up nights to change spin features just to watch coaches' heads explode.

The other disciplines
Pairs skating is mostly singles skills with the addition of lifts and throws, which makes you wonder why so many failed singles skaters switch to pairs. Man, if you can't do the singles, you're not going suddenly be a genius at pairs. One of the biggest problems with U.S. skating, in my opinion, is that we don't move enough strong Novice and Junior Men into Pairs. (And our general societal homophobia keeps us from training boys in figure skating in the first place.)

Ice dance focuses on partnering and edge quality. UPDATE: It used to be the most demanding from a training standpoint, because dancers had to master four programs a year-- 2 compulsories, a short program (the Original Dance) and a long program (the Free Dance). Now it's just Short Dance and Free Dance at the Junior and Senior levels, although Juv, Intermediate and Novice still have to do the pattern dances. The ISU chooses which compulsories will be skated; everyone trains the same ones. Don't get me started on how Code of Points has ruined ice dancing, we'll be here all night.

U.S. Nationals 2013 run all week, with all skaters in Novice, Junior and Championship (Senior) streaming on Ice Network, and NBC jumping in for the payoff on the 26th and 27th. You can get the live stream for a not-unreasonable fee, or watch the finals free on broadcast. The full schedule is here.

1 comment:

  1. I still sometimes get flummoxed by flips and lutzs if the skater doesn't do that long glde into the corner with the lutz. Yuna is one of those examples for just the reason you stated: jumps out of nowhere.